India battled a record spike in COVID-19 cases on Friday as hospitals ran out of oxygen and beds, while politicians held election rallies and hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees attended a week-long festival, infuriating to health officials.
A second massive wave of infections, second only to the United States overall, forced authorities to restrict the movement of people in Mumbai, New Delhi and other cities amid growing calls for faster vaccination implementations.
The 217,353 new cases reported by the Health Ministry on Friday marked the eighth record daily increase in the past nine days and brought the total number of cases to nearly 14.3 million.
The United States has reported more than 31 million infections.
Deaths in India increased by 1,185 in the past 24 hours, the highest increase in a single day in seven months, to reach a total of 174,308.
Experts have expressed concern about the spread of more contagious variants of the disease, particularly given the widespread participation in religious festivals and political demonstrations. A Lancet study this month estimated that daily deaths in India could double in June.
Hundreds of thousands of ascetics and devout Hindus gathered along the banks of the Ganges in the northern state of Uttarakhand after a massive bath during a religious festival on Wednesday, hoping to wash away their sins. Hundreds have tested positive.
In the capital Delhi, cases reached a record 16,699 overnight.
“It seems that more young people have serious illnesses,” said Giridhara Babu, professor of epidemiology at the Indian Institute of Public Health.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan again blamed a “casual approach” for the unprecedented increase in cases, although his colleagues in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party were still heading to election rallies attended by tens of thousands. with little evidence of masks or social distancing.
Interior Minister Amit Shah, whose department oversees the lockdown and other COVID rules, took a tour in a convertible vehicle down a busy street seeking votes in the state of West Bengal.
Thousands of farmers protesting in the capital against new farm laws for months have vowed to continue their 24-hour sit-ins. read more
“The speed with which the virus is spreading in our region (South Asia) is really terrifying,” said Udaya Regmi of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The government said it would supply some 17,000 tonnes of oxygen to a dozen states where the virus is increasing, including western Maharashtra and Delhi.
Supplies of the anti-viral drug Remdesivir are also increasing after reports of a widespread shortage. read more
India has injected 117 million doses of vaccines so far, the highest globally after the United States and China, but that covers only a small fraction of its 1.35 billion people.
The vaccines peaked at 4.5 million doses on April 5, but have since averaged about 3 million a day, according to government data, amid complaints about the shortage from states. read more
India has gone from being a massive exporter of vaccines to being an importer, having previously rejected foreign drug makers like Pfizer (PFE.N). It will import the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia starting this month to cover up to 125 million people. read more
India on Thursday also gave approval to the Haffkine Institute in Maharashtra to start producing Bharat Biotech’s homegrown COVAXIN injection, saying its production capacity would rise to nearly 100 million doses by September.
The country is currently administering the COVAXIN and AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine, which is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and under the Covishield brand.
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